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Survey points out the obvious

Kaye Ferry

I can’t help myself. I know it’s bad formm but here goes anyway. Say this lyrically, like a 9-year-old on the playground: I told you so! I told you so!

There. It’s done. I’ve wanted to do that ever since May 5, when the community survey results came out on. Have you seen it? Quite an interesting compilation.

But here’s the source of my ranting: The No. 1 concern of all those queried – 400 in number; residents, second-home owners, registered voters, you name it – was, do a drum roll in your head, da da da da da da! The economic vitality of the business community! You got it. But how about the powers that be? Did they get it?

Good question. For 12 years we’ve said over and over. “Pay attention to the business community.” When we started, over 60 percent of the budget came from sales tax revenues. It’s in the 40s now.

And when asked if government revenues should continue to be based on sales tax or should we diversity, 64 percent of those surveyed chose sales tax. That means we better start focusing on how to help businesses generate more sales tax because the majority wants it to continue to be the primary source of town revenue. Which means the primary funding mechanism for services and overhead. Speaking of overhead, did you know that 65 percent of the town budget goes toward salaries and benefits?

“Take care of the business community, and it’ll take care of you,” we’ve pleaded. Pretty obvious, but all we ever got was a “we know better’ attitude.

“You’re not our only constituency,” they would explain. “But we provide most of the budget,” we would say. “Hit the bricks” would be the response. We’ve been told in so many ways – once being called tenant merchants – and in so many words that we are one step up from carpet baggers. Forget that we pay the bills.

So it took Vail’s 14th community survey to point out the obvious. For the first time EVER, concerns for business surpassed parking, housing, redevelopment and the environment. And why? Because even those who only come to visit each year can see what’s going on. They don’t even need to live here to see the state of things. And they know that without a vibrant business community, this ain’t a place they want to be. Throw a second home into the equation, and now they really get it. Don’t think property values escape a declining business environment. And this is nothing new – the trend has been building for years.

But did they get it? I mean those seven with the microphones off sitting in a circle on Tuesdays. Or the staff they manage? Only time will tell. Because so far the declining sales tax numbers haven’t made an impression. I take that back. They have. They’ve had to cut into a few projects – like the fire station and street improvements. But it hasn’t daunted their spirits when it’s come to the essentials – like Donovan Park or gymnastics. We’ve got money for those.

But do you think it will make a difference when they decide to tear up Bridge Street in June, or will someone from the business community still have to walk in and say, “Gee guys, maybe it’d be better to start in April when no one’s here.” Or how about starting construction on Pirate Ship Park in August. Gosh, maybe October would be better when the kids are back in school – ever think of that?

To say nothing of ignoring parking so no one can get into town. And we all know what sense it made to cut back 90 minutes free parking to 60. I guess we’re supposed to be grateful; they were cutting it back to 30. Of course, “Free After 3” had to go – our employees were taking such advantage of the system. And there’s no point in encouraging anybody from downvalley to come up. I won’t even mention the new and easier sign code that’s been in the works for two years and still isn’t approved.

All the business community has ever asked for is a little consideration and communication. These are people who are extremely committed to the town of Vail and just want the opportunity to generate enough in sales that the taxes on those sales will float this boat. That’s not a lot to ask when you’re paying most of the bills. No other source of revenue provides anywhere near the proportion to the budget that the business community does. And believe me, it’s not easy.

One councilman keeps referring to “skin in the game.” Trust me, most business owners have a lot more than that on the line, only I can’t print what body part that is.

So in the meantime, focus on business, make it the priority. Generates revenues. Spend only on essential services. Save some money. Take a deep breath. And then start up again on frills. It won’t take long, but it will take effort. And commitment. And political will, which seems to be in short supply.

We’re in somewhat of an economic crisis by almost anybody’s standards, with little reason to think the end is near. We have to get out of it. And to do that we have to have a plan. The plan needs to include one column for cutting expenses and one column for increasing revenues. We’ve done some cutting. Enough? Never enough, but a good start.

So how about revenues? Before each decision is made, the question should be “How will this affect our ability to pay the bills?” Want it another way? Try this, “How will this affect the businesses’ ability to generate sales – translated into sales tax – which pays the bills?” Or a really basic version, “How will this affect the business community?”

One question worded many ways. But the bottom line is the same. The business community needs to be able to function, and it needs help to do so. A lot of help? Not necessarily, but no hindrances either. And this needs to happen so IT CAN PAY THE BILLS. Because that’s the way it’s always been, and 64 percent of those surveyed say that’s the way they want it to stay.

So what does help mean? It means making the whole process easier to navigate, like obtaining licenses, event permits, paying taxes and dealing with codes. It means cleaning the place up. It means using common sense when scheduling projects that will disrupt the streets. And it means developing a sense of humor and fun. This is, after all, a resort.

It’s so simple that you’d think that the town of Vail would be businesses’ biggest cheering squad. Go restaurants! Yeah retail! Sis boom bah lodges! But this is undoubtedly just another study for the circular file. Someone asked me what will be done with this survey. I could only shrug my shoulders. I don’t have a birdcage, so I guess it’s a good thing the cat has a litter box. At least it’ll be put to some good use.

FYI: You can also get the whole report on the town of Vail Web site: http://www.ci.vail.co.us. It’s well worth reading. Keep in mind, 400 people responded. I think that’s more than voted in the last election.

Updates: I read a letter to the editor the other day referring to the community survey’s results. The comment was made that the “economic vitality of the business community” was the No. 1 concern. The suggestion was the conference center would solve the problem. Keep in mind that on a list of 10 items, the conference center came in dead last. The problem was indeed identified, but the conference center was not seen as the solution.

Do your part. Call them or write them. To contact the Town Council call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@ci.vail.co.us. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail vailinfo@vailresorts.com. For past columns, vaildaily.com – search:ferry.

Kaye Ferry, founding president of the Vail Chamber and Business Association, is a longtime observer of Vail government.


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